Jane Evans: A Renaissance Woman Remembered
Jane Evans wasn’t a rabbi. Nonetheless, she was quite a force in Reform Judaism, perhaps even its matriarch. Beginning in 1933, and for the next 43 years, she was the executive director of what is now the Women of Reform Judaism. From 1976 to 1979 she served as administrator of the Union’s building at 838 Fifth Avenue after which she was, until her death, an executive consultant on personnel, labor union and other functions for the Union.
Although I could go on about her seven decades of devotion and diligence to Women of Reform Judaism, the Reform Movement, and her involvement in countless organizations in the Jewish and secular world-at-large, I’m not going to do that. Jane was a treasured colleague and friend to many of us, so I’ve turned to others to share their remembrances.
Roberta Kalan: “Jane Evans was my mentor. Her office was next to mine and I now occupy that office. She offered loving help and advice always. What I remember when I think about Jane Evans is that there are three sides to every story. She always challenged me on this and I learned that it was so true.” (URJ Facilities Manager)
Juan Rodriguez: “Dr. Evans was still driving into work at 90. Every morning she’d pull up in front of 633 and I’d help her out of the car, help her with her walker, and then drive the car around to the garage. People would see us and everyone always said, ‘I can’t believe she’s still driving.’ She was so determined in life; whatever she wanted to do, she did. The other thing I remember is she always had some advice about life, and she was always stern and fair, no matter what. It felt like she was my mother, but not in a bad way.” (URJ Mailroom Supervisor)
Monika Hamburger: “What I remember most about Dr. Jane Evans was hearing stories about her passions—boating, design, learning and Judaism—particularly the Reform Movement. The story of the Silver Swan fan brought her love of boating and her design skills together in a wonderful way.
At the height of the Depression, Jane was a well known interior designer in Cincinnati, where one of her clients was Joseph Newman, president of Emerson Electric. One day, he asked her what she thought about table fans. When Jane told him how she hated them because they were loud, vibrated, were dangerous and ugly, Newman challenged her to design something new—and gave her 90 days to meet the challenge.
He was shocked when she came back to him in 30 days with a revolutionary new design that included elegant satin blades with a safety cage around them that balanced the fan. Newman agreed to make the prototype, which was not only beautiful, but also moved air quietly. When Newman asked her about the blade design, Jane told him that the inspiration came from her passion for boating. She’d studied outboard motor blades and decided that if those blades could move something as heavy as water, surely they would work even better with air!
Newman offered Jane a one-time payment of $25,000 or a percentage of the profits. Because he expected to sell about 5,000 fans annually, Jane opted for the $25,000. However, the fan proved to be so popular that more than 50,000 were sold in the first year alone! Today, Emerson’s Silver Swan is a treasured fan among collectors.” (former URJ Chief Administrative Officer)
Helayne Friedland: “In 2001, Dr. Evans offered me an amazing opportunity to exhibit my ceramic art in the URJ gallery space at 633. On the evening of the exhibit’s opening, she insisted that she would drive me home (to Westchester, where she also lived) so I would not have to take the subway late at night. At the time Dr. Evans was in her 90s and, having heard many stories about her driving, I was a bit nervous about getting in the car with her. However, I could think of no polite way to decline. On the way home, she took a route that was not familiar to me. Not wanting to betray my nervousness or seem disrespectful, I stayed silent. I was surprised when, without taking her eyes off the road, she quietly said, “Don’t worry. I actually do know where I’m going.” Dr. Evans was an amazingly perceptive and strong woman, a force to be reckoned with, and is always remembered by me with gratitude, admiration and respect.” (URJ Production Manager)
Jimmy Vignapiano: “Two things stick in my head about Jane: Nothing ever stopped her. If she had an accident…a fall, a car accident…whatever, she always bounced right back and came to work. But more important than that, she was the negotiator for management in the labor union negotiations, and she never let her personal feelings get in the way. Being in the labor union myself, I always remember that if we were right about something during negotiations, she’d stand up and tell management, ‘They’re right about that.’” (URJ Mailroom Clerk)
JanetheWriter: “The thing I remember most about Jane Evans I didn’t even learn until after she died and I was researching and writing about her life for the URJ: An avid boater well into her 90s, Jane frequently relaxed by navigating her boat solo through Long Island Sound from Mamaroneck, New York to a favorite inlet near Westport, Connecticut. Even today, when I think about Jane, in my mind’s eye she’s lazing about on her boat—a floppy hat atop her head—pondering her next invention and enjoying the sunshine. Indeed, I hope that’s exactly what she’s doing in olam ha-ba (the world to come).”